Was there any other possible choice for Indians MVP?
Well, OK sure, José Ramírez was one, but Shane Bieber is going to be unanimous AL Cy Young and he will probably get some MVP votes as well. It’s not hard to see why he won our staff vote for the best Indians player this year, and he dominated the regular season like few others ever have.
Like so many great performances from this season, we will never know for sure if Bieber could have kept up the pace he was on over a full 162. But for 12 glorious starts we witnessed him lead all starters in strikeout rate (41.1%), ERA (1.63), ERA- (35), SIERA (2.52), WAR (3.2), and just about any metric you want to throw his way. He didn’t do it with a particularly lucky BABIP against or strand rate, and he actually walked more batters than he has at any level, but when you have a whiff rate among the top 2% in baseball it does not really matter how many get on base for free.
Bieber’s first two starts were incredible by any measure in any season. Facing the Royals and Twins in late July, he struck out 27 batters over his first 14.0 innings to tie the major league record for strikeouts through two starts. Perhaps as a sign of things to come, Bieber almost lost that start against the Twins — he shut them out over eight innings, but the only Indians runs came from a José Ramírez homer.
Overall, Bieber went on to strike out double-digit batters in all but four his starts and he recorded at least eight K’s in every one of them.
He did all this in large part because he casually created a secondary curveball of sorts, one that moves like a slider and one that is more like a traditional north-south hammer curveball. Last season he wafted between the two curveballs — switching from one to another when it stopped fooling batters. This season, he just went ahead and used both to great effect.
As if throwing two curveballs wasn’t enough, Bieber also incorporated a cutter into his game for the first time. It was a nasty little pitch he threw 16.2% of the time that hardly had any horizontal movement but dropped almost 25 inches.
With at least five pitches in his arsenal — almost five and a half — good luck trying to guess which pitch he’s throwing you.
Unfortunately, as I also had to write in my Carlos Carrasco review, the playoffs were a different story — Shane had nothing against the Yankees. He was hit hard right away and was quickly relegated to trying to make anything work, as opposed to being able to use whatever pitch he wanted. His fastballs weren’t catching the edge of the zone, his slider was nonexistent, and by the fifth inning he was out with seven runs to his name. The fact the lasted that long and threw 105 pitches while having none of his stuff working was a testament to how good he was, in a roundabout way.
Call it nerves or yips or facing a team for the first time this season or whatever you want, but he didn’t look good. And it’s a shame, because that Wild Card game was not who Shane Bieber was in an otherwise short, difficult year. He was a beacon of hope for the Indians as the lineup consistently let them down and the losses piled up.
Bieber took full advantage of the delayed start of the season to fine-tune his craft, and it resulted in him catapulting from a very good first-year pitcher to one of the best in all of baseball. Now with a full season under his belt and his first playoff appearance out of the way, there is nothing stopping the 25-year-old from dominating the league for many years to come.